Dinner for One with Bittman’s ‘Polenta without Fear’ + A Huge Thank You

polenta, chard and fried egg

polenta, chard and fried egg

I never thought the day would come when I would consider sautéed greens over polenta topped with a fried egg as the idea of the most delicious dinner. Well, the day is here (has been for a little while now), and I am so glad it is, because nothing could be simpler to prepare.

Before I write another word, however, I just want to extend a huge thank you to the reader who submitted my blog in the comments section of this Bitten post. I am so touched that you thought of me and am so shocked to have been selected. Thank you, too, to the Bitten bloggers for considering alexandra’s kitchen as a worthy under-the-radar blog.

I could think of no better way to commemorate this moment than by making one of my favorite Bittman recipes: Polenta without Fear, which recently appeared in the featured recipe section of Bitten. I first made this dish shortly after returning from a dinner party where, upon arrival, I had been charged with polenta-making duties. I went to work, but what I had hoped to produce to complement the host’s delectable braised short ribs left me embarrassed. (I must note that it didn’t help that the host didn’t own a whisk, but I can’t turn all the blame elsewhere.) My polenta was lumpy, dry and unflavorful. Why?!

Of course my mother had the answer. Or at least a solution. Have you made Bittman’s polenta recipe, she asked? No, I hadn’t. But I would soon, and I did. And it’s delicious. The recipe uses a ratio of 1 cup stone ground cornmeal to 3 cups of liquid (1 cup whole milk + 2 cups water) with the addition of 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano and 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter at the end. Minimal stirring is required and the addition of a little water towards the end of the cooking process is all the doctoring necessary to produce “creamy, soft, mouth-filling polenta,” as described on Bitten.

So, as the title suggests, this polenta, topped with some sautéed greens — chard, kale, spinach — and a fried egg makes a great dinner-for-one. Would I love some braised short ribs on my polenta? Of course, but there are better opportunities for that. Need another dinner-for-one idea? Try these Zuni Cafe Eggs Fried in Bread Crumbs … so yummy!

The ingredients:
mise en place for dinner for one

Sautéed onions and Swiss chard from my Morning Song Farm CSA:
Swiss chard and onions over polenta

polenta, chard and fried egg

Polenta without Fear

Source: Bitten
Serves: 4

1 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
Salt
1 cup coarse cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 to 4 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup or more freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to taste, optional

1. Bring milk to a boil with 2 cups water in a medium saucepan and add a large pinch of salt. Adjust heat so liquid simmers. Add cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking as you do to prevent lumps. When it has all been added, let mixture return to a boil, then turn heat to low. Polenta should be just barely simmering.

2. Cook, stirring occasionally and being sure to scrape sides and bottom of pan, for 15 to 20 minutes, until mixture is creamy and cornmeal tastes cooked. If mixture becomes too thick, whisk in some water, about 1/2 cup at a time. (I added about 2/3 cup water in 1/3 cup increments.)

3. Taste and season polenta as necessary with salt and pepper. Take pan off stove, stir in the butter or oil and the cheese if you are using it, and serve, passing more cheese at the table if you like.

Serve with sautéed greens and a fried egg for a simple simple dinner.

Tomato, Corn & Cheese Galette — A Favorite Summer Meal — With A Chocolate Chip Cookie for Dessert

tomato tart

The August 2000 issue of Fine Cooking Magazine was fantastic. I can’t believe that two of my all-time favorite recipes came from that issue — from one article in fact — and that I have now been making these recipes for almost 10 years. I feel old.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but David Lebovitz, author of The Perfect Scoop, wrote the article and supplied the two fabulous tart dough recipes, one sweet, one savory, that I have been making all these years. The sweet galette dough is used in this recipe as well as this one (both from the above mentioned article), and the savory cornmeal galette dough is used in the above pictured tart, and it is so tasty.

This galette, filled with caramelized onions, fresh corn, basil, Gruyère cheese and heirloom tomatoes, is prefect for the end of summer. Serve it with a simple mixed greens salad or a cucumber-and-feta cheese plate for a light, vegetarian meal. Yum.

I have actually blogged about this tart before. In that post, however, I had pressed the dough into a tart shell and blind baked it briefly before adding the remaining ingredients. That method is fine, just a touch fussier. I prefer making these rustic, free-form tarts.

 tomato tart

The original recipe for this tart calls for onions as opposed to leeks. I used leeks because I received a whole bunch in my CSA, but truthfully, I think this tart is tastier with onions. Use whatever you have. Gruyère is particularly tasty, but any cheese you have on hand will do.

tart ingredients

Assembling these tarts is easy: Simply spread the corn and caramelized onion (or leek) mixture into the center of the dough; top with cheese; top with the tomatoes; then fold the edges up to make a free-form tart.

Assembling the Tart

Tomato, Corn and Cheese Galette with Fresh Basil

Source: Fine Cooking Magazine (40, pp. 68-73 August 2000)
Serves 4

Note: For no particular reason, I split the dough in half and made two small tarts, but this is unnecessary. Normally I make just one large tart, and it is fantastic.

Cornmeal Galette Dough

1-1/4 cups (5 oz.) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (1-1/2 oz.) fine yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. sugar
1-1/4 tsp. salt
6 T. (3 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
3 T. olive oil
1/4 cup ice water

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt. Cut in the chilled butter using a stand mixer, a food processor, or a pastry blender until it’s evenly distributed but still in large, visible pieces. Add the olive oil and ice water and mix until the dough begins to come together. Gather the dough with your hands and shape it into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Finishing the tart:

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/2 bunch basil or tarragon, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped, (to yield about 1/2 cup); plus 10 whole leaves
Kernels from 1 ear of corn (about 1 cup)
1 recipe Cornmeal Galette Dough (see above)
1 large or 2 medium ripe tomatoes (about 3/4 lb. total) cut into 1/3-inch slices, drained on paper towels
3 oz. Comté or Gruyère cheese, shredded
1 large egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp. milk or cream

1. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 10 min. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic, chopped basil, and corn and cook for 30 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and set aside to cool.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and heat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet, preferably one without sides, with kitchen parchment. (If your baking sheet has sides, flip it over and use the back.)

3. Roll the dough on a floured surface into a 15-inch round, lifting the dough with a metal spatula as you roll to make sure it’s not sticking. If it is, dust the surface with more flour. Transfer it by rolling it around the rolling pin and unrolling it on the lined baking sheet.

4. Spread the onion and corn mixture over the dough, leaving a 2-inch border without filling. Update 7-16-2014: Sprinkle the cheese over the onions and corn. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer over the cheese and season them with salt and pepper. Lift the edges of the dough and fold them inward over the filling, pleating as you go, to form a folded-over border. Pinch together any tears in the dough. Brush the egg yolk and milk mixture over the exposed crust.

5. Bake until the crust has browned and the cheese has melted, 35 to 45 min. Slide the galette off the parchment and onto a cooling rack. Let cool for 10 min. Stack the remaining 10 basil leaves and use a sharp knife to cut them into a chiffonade. Cut the galette into wedges, sprinkle with the basil, and serve.

tomato tart

This is another recipe I’ve already blogged about, but it is so good. Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies. The key is to keep your oven at 375ºF; bake only 6 cookies on a sheet at one time; and remove them from the oven after 11 minutes — they won’t look done but they continue cooking on the sheet. For kicks, I added a little fleur de sel to the tops of these before baking. Here’s the recipe.

chewy chocolate chip cookie with a touch of salt on top

In Honor of Top Chef: Padma’s Salad with Rancho Gordo Beans & Bäco Flatbreads

Padma's Salad

Padma's Salad
Early last Wednesday morning, before the premier of Top Chef Las Vegas, Padma Lakshmi made a delectable looking salad on the Today Show with Matt Lauer. She chopped up fresh spinach, mixed it with chickpeas, bell peppers and chives, and tossed it all together with olive oil and lemon juice. Served with fresh pita bread, says Padma, this “chickpea tapas” makes a wonderful whole meal.

I couldn’t agree more. Upon seeing this segment, I felt inspired to cook up some of the Ranch Gordo beans I had picked up in San Francisco earlier this month. I have been wanting to incorporate more beans — such a healthy, affordable food, filled with protein — into my diet, and this salad has proven to be a great way to do so. I made this salad two nights in a row last week with my Alubia Criollo beans and various other goodies from my CSA — arugula, cherry tomatoes, chives, shaved zucchini and chopped orange.

Beans, I am learning, are really not so much trouble to make from scratch. I soaked mine in the morning and cooked them according to the instructions on the Rancho Gordo website. I’m not a bean connoisseur, but I like RG’s description of these small white beans: Alubios have a “rich, buttery flavor and creamy, over-the-moon texture.”

I ate my salad with these Bäco flatbreads, the recipe for which I spotted in the LA Times in June 2008 and have had tacked to my fridge ever since. Bäco flatbreads, made with Greek yogurt seasoned with ginger, garlic and lime juice, are similar to the pita breads used for gyros — the pocketless pita breads. They are delicious! The recipe yields more yogurt sauce than needed, but the sauce makes a nice accompaniment to both the flatbreads and the salad. A nice little combination eaten taco style is a bäco flatbread, spread with some yogurt sauce and topped with some salad. So yummy!

Note: I omitted the lavendar and added some chives.

Bacao Flatbread

Bacao cooking in pan

salad ingredients

Here is Padma’s basic recipe. Please note, however, that Padma prefers making this with raw spinach or arugula — I used raw, chopped arugula — as opposed to cooked, which is what her recipe says to do. Also, any vegetables — tomatoes, zucchini, corn, mushrooms, etc. — can be added to this salad. A nice variety of vegetables makes for a nice variety of flavors and textures. I also used a little balsamic vinegar in addition to the fresh lemon juice.

Here is the Bäco Flatbreads recipe. I added some chives to the yogurt mixture and served some of the remaining yogurt sauce with the flatbread and the salad — this is such a yummy meal!

Tartine’s Quiche, Homemade Crème Fraîche & A Little Trip to Napa & Bouchon

Tartine's Quiche with Homemade Crème Fraîche

Tartine Quiche

The weekend would begin with quiche. That was a given. My friend would pick me up at the San Francisco airport and before beginning our journey north, we would stop for breakfast. For quiche, that is. I have been dreaming about the Tartine quiche for over a year now, since my last and only other visit to this most adored San Francisco cafe.

The much anticipated weekend arrived, and I found myself at Tartine with two dear friends standing in a line stretching around the corner. As we waited, we contemplated our order, which quickly became apparent would be a feast. None of us was prepared to make a difficult decision this morning, so we decided to keep things simple — we would order everything. Or nearly everything: Quiche. Croque monsieur. Morning Bun. Scone. Croissant. Almond Croissant. Bread Pudding.

The quiche with ham and Swiss chard, my friends confirmed, lived up to every expectation I had created for them. The bread pudding with fresh peaches, too, and the croque monsieur with heirloom tomatoes and Gruyère similarly blew us away. It’s rare for a restaurant to offer an across-the-board spread of so many delectables, but it seems that’s just how Tartine rolls. 

So, what separates Tartine’s quiche from others? Well, I have a few ideas, thanks to the Tartine cookbook, which so generously has provided a dead-on recipe. Seriously. I followed the recipe to a T and recreated, what I believe, is the most delicious quiche on the planet. 

1. The custard ingredients/ratio. I suspect this is the primary reason why Tartine’s quiche is so fabulous. Tartine uses a ratio of 1 cup crème fraîche to 1 cup whole milk to 5 eggs. The mixing method is also interesting — one egg is whisked with 3 T. of flour until smooth. Then the remaining eggs are whisked in. Then the egg mixture is strained over the crème fraîche-milk mixture. Sound fussy? Well, it sort of is. But it’s so worth it. I wouldn’t recommend straying from the recipe or taking any shortcuts in any way.

When I made this at home, I, for the first time ever, made my own crème fraîche, which was so much fun — it’s crazy  to see heavy cream transform into a thick, tangy mass of goodness. Making crème fraîche is easy: Mix 2 tablespoons of buttermilk (or 2 tablespoons of yogurt) with 2 cups of heavy cream. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Stir and then store until ready to use.

2. The flaky tart shell is delectable. There is nothing unusual about the Tartine recipe — flour, salt, ice water and lots of cold butter. Blindbaking the shell for about 30 minutes ensures a crisp, perfectly browned crust.

3. Tartine uses uncooked greens. For whatever reason, I have been in the habit of quickly sauteéing any type of green before adding it to a quiche, but Tartine recommends otherwise. The recipe calls for 1 cup of uncooked roughly chopped greens. This is the only step where I strayed a tad — I added more like 2-3 cups of roughly chopped Swiss chard.

The Tartine quiche has completely changed my perception of this classic dish. The texture of the Tartine quiche, which has not an ounce of cheese, is truly a beautiful thing. Prior to tasting Tartine’s, quiche for me was all about the fillers — onions, bacon, cheese, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, whatever. Now, it’s about the custard, the light, creamy, custard. 

I must admit that making this quiche is no simple task. That said, if you have the tart dough made in advance (which I do now since the tart dough recipe yields enough for two 10-inch quiches) and if you have the crème fraîche made in advance (or are using store bought), making this quiche isn’t such a process. It’s also just a matter of getting familiar with the process. 

Tartine Quiche

Clockwise from top left: Quiche shell, lined with parchment paper, ready to be blind-baked. Filled quiche shell ready for the oven. Baked quiche. Baked quiche up close. 

Quiche

Next on my recipes to tackle in the Tartine cookbook is bread pudding made with homemade brioche bread. Before we head there, however, I just want to share a few highlights of my trip to Napa:

Wine tasting at Cakebread Cellars in Napa Valley. Grapes at Cakebread:

Grapes

Wine tasting at Hendry’s Winery in Napa. The tasting table at Hendry’s:

Tasting Table at Hendry's Vineyard

Eating macaroons at Bouchon in Yountville. Incredibly delicious.

Bouchon Macarons

Visiting Bouchon altogher. Here we sampled TKOs (Thomas Keller Oreos), chocolate bouchons, macaroons, croissants, almond croissants, ham and cheese sandwiches, epi baguettes and quiche. The spread, pictured at the very bottom, was remarkable. 

Bouchon

Quiche with Crème Fraîche and Swiss Chard
Source: Tartine (Chronicle Books, 2006)
Serves 6 to 8

Flaky Tart Dough
Yield = 2 10-inch tart or pie shells

1 tsp. salt (I used table salt)
2/3 cup ice water
3 cups + 2 T. all-purpose flour (1 lb.)
1 cup + 5 T. unsalted butter, very cold

1. In a small bowl, add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Keep cold until ready to use.

2. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into 1-inch (or smaller) pieces and scatter the pieces over the flour. Using a pastry blender or two knives or two forks, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture forms large clumps and the butter is in pieces the size of small peas. Drizzle the water-salt mixture over the flour and stir and toss with a fork until the dough comes together in a shaggy mass. Gently mix until the dough comes together into a ball but is not completely smooth.

3. On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into 2 equal balls and shape each ball into a disk 1-inch thick. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.

4. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

5. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1/8-inch thick, rolling from the center toward the edge in all directions. (Lift and rotate the dough a quarter turn every few strokes to prevent sticking, and work quickly to prevent the dough from becoming warm.) Transfer the round to the pie dish, easing it into the corners. Trim excess dough.

6. Cut a piece of parchment paper large enough to fit over the pie plate generously. Fill parchment paper with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the surface looks light brown. Remove from oven and remove the weights and paper. Return the shell to the oven and bake until golden brown, about 5 minutes longer. Cool shell on wire rack until ready to fill.

Quiche with Swiss Chard and Crème Fraîche

1 fully baked 10-inch Flaky Tart Shell Dough (recipe above)
5 large eggs
3 T. all-purpose flour
1 cup crème fraîche*
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 T. fresh thyme, finely chopped (I didn’t have thyme so I used chives)
1 cup uncooked coarsely chopped Swiss Chard (I used more like 2 or 3 cups)

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

2. Place 1 egg and the flour in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the remaining 4 eggs until blended.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk the crème fraîche until smooth. Whisk in the milk. Pour the egg mixture through a fine mesh sieve held over the milk mixture. Whisk in the salt, pepper and thyme (or other herb). Stir in the chard.

4. Pour the egg mixture into the pastry shell. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325ºF and bake until the filling is just set, about 30 minutes longer. The center of the quiche should still feel slightly firm, rather than liquidy, when touched. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes to allow the custard to set up, so that it will slice neatly. It can be served warm or at room temperature. To serve a fully cooled quiche warm, cover it with aluminum foil and reheat it in a 325ºF for about 15 minutes.

* To make crème fraîche, place 2 cups heavy cream in bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of yogurt or 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Stir to combine. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Stir. Mixture will be nice and thick. Store in the fridge until ready to use. Note: Try to use good heavy cream and not ultra-pasteurized if possible — I used to have no trouble making crème fraîche, but recently I have found that it takes an especially long time for the cream to thicken. If you find that after 12 hours the cream does not look thick at all, add a few more tablespoons of buttermilk or yogurt to the mixture.

Bouchon Spread

Asian Lettuce Wraps for Almost Meatless Potluck

Asian Lettuce wraps

Asian Lettuce wraps

Many years ago, my grandmother coined a phrase the women in my family haven’t been able to let go. My grandmother, the women noticed, would describe certain dishes — certain dishes she really liked — as “light light.” If Gramma declared a meal “light light,” the women knew she approved.

Since noticing the pattern, my mother and aunt have strived to make everything they serve to their mother “light light.” Buttermilk panna cotta and orange and olive oil cake pass the “light-light” test with flying colors. Well, when I took a bite of these Asian lettuce wraps made with ginger-marinated chicken thighs topped with a simple slaw of carrots, cucumbers, celery and scallions, I instantly thought of my dear Gramma mou and, of course, of my mother and auntie who will be so pleased to add another “light light” recipe to their repertoire. I know Gramma will approve.

This recipe is fabulous! What’s more, it comes from a book that one of my very own friends wrote! Yeah, I know, I have famous friends. This past April, my friend Tara Mataraza published a book, Almost Meatless, with co-author Joy Manning.  Tara and I met way back in Philadelphia while working at Fork, which recently received Three Bells from Craig Laban of the Philadelphia Inquirer … a huge deal. (Congrats Ellen and everyone at Fork!)

Almost MeatlessAnyway, when Tara invited me to participate in a virtual potluck on her blog, Crumbs on my Keyboard, I jumped. The hardest part about partaking in this event was picking the actual dish. So many of the dishes — crab pad Thai, steak salad with blue cheese dressing, and Thai coconut curry soup — I saw in the table of contents caught my eye. And if the recipe I’ve made here is any measure of goodness for what’s in the rest of the book, I am in for a real treat once my copy of Almost Meatless arrives.

I am most looking forward to making this recipe for company. It is simple to prepare, stunning to serve, and exceptionally satisfying to eat. Both the slaw and the meat are incredibly flavorful and the combination of the crunchy cool slaw with the tender hot meat is so yummy. Make it. You’ll be happy. I promise.

Slaw Ingredients:

Slaw Ingredients

Marinade ingredients:

Marinade Indredients

Asian Lettuce Wraps

Source: Almost Meatless by Tara Mataraza and Joy Manning (Ten Speed Press, 2009)
Reprinted with permission from Ten Speed Press and the authors.
Serves 4

For the marinade:
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes
1 scallion, green and white parts, sliced
8 to 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 4 thighs, or 2 thighs and 2 legs), cut into small cubes or strips

For the slaw:
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 teaspoon dark (asian) sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 thick carrot (about 4 ounces), cut into 1/8-inch strips
1 cucumber, cut into 1/8-inch strips
2 stalks celery, sliced 1/4 inch thick diagonally
2 to 3 scallions, white and green parts, sliced on the diagonal
16 lettuce leaves (romaine, Boston, Bibb, or green or red leaf)
2 tablespoons roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

1. Make the marinade. Combine the fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, orange juice, 2 tablespoons oil, the ginger, garlic, chile flakes, and scallion in a medium bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat the meat. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator, letting the chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the slaw. Whisk together the vinegar, orange juice, sesame oil, salt, and ginger in a large bowl. Toss the vinaigrette together with the carrot, cucumber, celery, and scallions. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

3. To prepare the lettuce, rinse and pat the leaves dry. Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use. (If you choose romaine, use the leafy top part of the lettuce for the wrappers. You can tear off the stiffer bottom stem half, chop it up, and add it to the slaw for extra crunch if you like.)

4. Cook the chicken. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the marinated chicken and marinade and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring often, until the chicken is firm to the touch and beginning to brown. Stir in the peanuts.

5. To assemble and serve, set out the slaw and chicken in bowls along with a platter of the lettuce. Wrap a scoop of slaw and chicken in each lettuce leaf. Have a napkin handy!

Hearst Ranch Grass-fed Steaks, Oven-Roasted Potatoes & All-time Favorite Brownies

Balsamic Parsley Caper Sauce for Grilled Steak

steak and potatoes

My mother is worried. This isn’t a new sentiment, I can assure you. Worry, I’m afraid, pervades her daily existence. She’s worried about the plastic wrap in this recipe and would like me to offer you all an alternative. One Thanksgiving, my mother was so worried, she sent me an oven. An oven. She didn’t know how I could possibly make my turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes with only one oven, and so she sent me an oven.

Last week, my mother became worried about my husband, Ben. She’s worried he might wilt away if I keep feeding him tofu and edamame and beets and eggs. So driven by her worry, my mother sent me 10 pounds of steaks, just, you know, to tuck in my freezer in case an iron-deficient Ben starts looking pale and cold.

But my mother is so thoughtful, too. And a wonderful gift-giver she has always been. Sensitive to my feelings about animals and food-miles, she sent me grass-fed steaks from the Hearst Ranch in San Simeon, CA. I took the opportunity to make this Grilled Grass-fed Ribeye with Balsamic Caper Vinaigrette recipe from the latest Bon Appetit. Damn, steak is good. I’ve forgotten. And this sauce — reduced balsamic seasoned with crushed red pepper flakes and mixed with parsley, capers, shallots and olive oil — is fabulous. It’s such a treat to have our freezer stocked with this incredibly flavorful, humanely raised and relatively local meat.

Mama, worry no longer. Rest assured that the love of my life is beaming, a hearty helping of meat and potatoes certainly to credit. Thank you for the wonderful gift!

raw steaks
Pictured above: Raw, grass-fed ribeyes, rubbed with smoked paprika, garlic, pepper and salt.Note: While this smoked paprika rub adds a nice flavor, I don’t recommend using it for these grass-fed steaks. We’ve cooked the Hearst Ranch steaks twice now, once with the rub, once without, and we preferred the steaks without the rub — a liberal sprinkling of kosher salt brings out the real flavor of the meat. Also, be sure not to overcook these steaks. For medium-rare, try two minutes a side and allow the steaks to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.

Balsamic-parsley-and-caper sauce:
parsley-caper sauce

Have I not yet shared with you my favorite brownie recipe? I can’t believe that. I discovered this recipe in a Fine Cooking magazine three years ago and have not tried another brownie recipe since. Like the pizza and the muffins and the orange and olive oil cake, these brownies are it.

brownies and milk

Rich Fudgy Brownies
Source: Fine Cooking
Yield = 16 (2-inch) brownies

Note: If you have a scale, I highly recommend using it. I use my Salter digital scale when I make these and they come out perfectly every time.

Also: To make this gluten-free, simply swap the all-purpose flour with almond flour. You’d never know the difference.

8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter; plus more for the pan
15¼ oz. (2 cups) granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
2½ oz (¾ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
3 oz (2/3 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour or almond flour (for gluten free); plus more for the pan
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. table salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and position rack in the center of the oven. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan or line with parchment paper.

2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and whisk until well combined. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla and whisk until well blended. In a large separate bowl whisk together the cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt. Transfer butter mixture to bowl with flour and stir with spatula or wooden spoon until batter is smooth.

3. Spread into prepared pan and bake for approximately 37-40 minutes. Insert a pairing knife or steak knife straight into center. If it comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs, the brownies are done. Let cool completely in pan on rack.

Grilled Grass-fed Ribeyes with Balsamic-Caper Vinaigrette
Source: Bon Appetit Magazine
Serves 4

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for steaks and grill
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

4 3/4-inch-thick grass-fed rib-eye steaks
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1. Simmer vinegar in small pan over medium heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 6 minutes. Add shallots, 1/4 cup oil, and crushed red pepper; return to simmer. Remove from heat; whisk in parsley, capers, and thyme. Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper.

2. Rub both sides of steaks lightly with oil. Season generously with kosher salt and pepper.

3. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Brush grill rack with oil to coat. Grill steaks until cooked to desired doneness, about 2 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer steaks to plates. Spoon vinaigrette over or serve on the side.

Gordon Hamersley’s Beet, Goat Cheese and Walnut Tart

baked tart

baked tart

This tart is really fun. And different. And delicious. I can’t promise a quick-and-easy dinner with this recipe — beets must be roasted; a tart shell must be baked — but with a little planning, assembly of this tart is quite simple. And it is so worth the effort.

Why are beets, goat cheese and walnuts so good together? And why did I never think to bake them all together in a flaky, buttery shell? Gordon Hamersley recommends serving this tart with a little mixed greens tossed with a bright vinaigrette, which is exactly what I did.

I spotted this recipe in a recent Cookstr newsletter entitled “10 Dishes Under $10.” Under $10 very likely it was — my bunch of beets cost $2 at the farmers’ market, and I still have all of the greens remaining to use for another meal. 

Let’s see. I did make a few changes, only one of which is significant. I substituted buttermilk for the heavy cream. The recipe calls for 3/4 of a cup of heavy cream, which, and I hate to be so girly, amounts to 700 calories. The substitution of buttermilk brings that down to 90. Nine. Zero. I mean that is seriously significant. And while I can’t speak for the taste of the full-fat version, buttermilk does not compromise the flavor. This tart is fabulous. I ate leftovers for breakfast and dinner. Yum yum yum.

The other changes are minor and noted in the recipe.

beets

Above: Beets purchased from the San Clemente Farmers’ Market. I like to buy my beets from Eli’s Ranch. (They park in front of the library and sell the best avocados, too.)

Below: To blind bake a tart shell, line it with plastic wrap and dried beans. Fold the plastic up and over so that the crust is exposed. Bake for about 20 minutes at 375ºF.

preparing to blind bake the tart shell

unbaked tart

baked tart

Be warned: If you care about your cutting board, don’t cut beets on it. I forgot to use my plastic one for this job. Oops. 

beet board

Beet, Goat Cheese and Walnut Tart

Source: Gordon Hamersley via Cookstr
Note: Below is a simplified version of the recipe. Find the original here.
Serves 4 to 6

1 recipe tart dough, shaped and blind baked
Yield: 12 ounces, enough for one 10-inch tart or 6 individual tarts

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and well chilled
4 to 5 tablespoons ice water

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and the salt. Quickly cut the butter into the flour, using a pastry blender or the back of a fork, until the butter pieces are the size of large peas. (Alternatively, cut the butter into the flour by pulsing it 8 to 10 times in a food processor, being careful not to overheat and overmix the butter.)

2. Add the ice water. Using just your fingertips and working quickly, combine the flour mixture and the water. Work just until the water is absorbed. The dough will be ragged but should hold together when you squeeze it. If it seems dry, sprinkle on a few more drops of water. (I had to add a few more tablespoons of water.)

3. Gather the dough up into a ball — it’s fine if the dough does not come together completely at this time. Wrap the dough well in plastic wrap, flatten it a bit, and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least a half hour before rolling. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. You can also freeze the dough, well wrapped; allow it to defrost for a day in the refrigerator before using it.

4. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Roll the dough into a large circle — large enough to overlap whatever sized tart pan you are using. Press the dough into the corners and into the sides of the tart pan. Trim off any excess dough. Line the tart with plastic wrap and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Fold plastic up and over to expose the crust. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Remove beans from tart.

Meanwhile Prepare the Tart.
Note: This recipe has been slightly modified from the original, which can be found here.

2 to 3 small beets (Note: Since you are roasting beets, you may as well roast a few more. When assembling the tart, I used about 2 heaping cups of diced beets)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dry white wine (or Sherry or Madeira — whatever you have on hand.)
1 recipe tart dough (above)
3 large eggs
¾ cup heavy cream (I used buttermilk)
4 ounces fresh goat cheese (I used less. Add according to taste/preference.)
1 cup chopped walnuts (I used less. Add according to taste/preference.)
1 tablespoon walnut oil (Optional — I did not use.)
About 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Heat the oven to 450°F. Wash the beets. Place the beets in a small ovenproof pan (like a brownie pan or a pie plate.) Add water to reach 1/8-inch up the sides. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until the beets are tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 45 minutes.

2. Allow the beets to cool. (Or not). Rub the skins off of the beets with your fingers, then dice the beets into small cubes. (Be careful, as beet juice can stain counters, towels, and even your hands; you may want to wear gloves for this step.)

3. Heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, season with a little salt, and cook, stirring every few minutes, until the onion is just tender, about 7 minutes. Add the alcohol and cook for another minute, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. (Note: I caramelized my onions a bit more — cooked them slowly for about 25 minutes.)

4. Heat the oven to 350°F. Add the beets and onions to the blind-baked tart shell. (Note: I added the walnuts at this step as well, but Hamersley adds them after the tart has already baked for 20 minutes. Your call.)

5. Whisk together the eggs and cream (or buttermilk), season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and carefully pour over the beets and onion, letting the mixture seep evenly into the beets. Dot the goat cheese all over the top of the tart. Put the tart on a baking sheet and bake it for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts on top of the tart and drizzle the walnut oil over it, if using. Return the tart to the oven and bake until just set, an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle the tart with the chopped parsley and let it rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Final Notes: If you can roast the beets ahead of time and prepare the tart shell (or make the tart dough) in advance, this tart can be assembled in no time.

Tofu, Edamame & Soju

Warm Tofu with Spicy Dipping Sauce — The Only Way I Eat Tofu

tofuWaywaywaywaywaiiit. Stop. Seriously. I know what you’re doing. I can see you. I can’t. But I know what you’re doing. You’re turning your nose. The thought of tofu for dinner, you’re thinking, is unacceptable.

I was there once, too. But in the past few months, I have been experimenting with tofu, trying to truly grow to like it. So when I read Ruth Reichl’s description of this warm tofu with spicy dipping sauce — “a beautiful dish, which takes ten minutes, costs very little, and is so utterly delicious” —  in this month’s Gourmet, I had to try it. 

This is by far the easiest easiest easiest (my friends who hate to cook are you listening?) method of preparing tofu I have encountered. The recipe calls for simmering the tofu in water, making a sauce and pouring the sauce over the tofu. And it is delicious. Truly. I think you will be pleased. 

tofu

PS: Though this rectangular plate is quite pretty, I think bowls are a more appropriate serving dish. 

Making the sauce:
sauce prep

toasted sesame seeds

scallions

On the side? Way back in the day, I worked at a catering company in Philadelphia. At nearly every party I worked, ‘peking duck rolls’ served straight from a bamboo steamer were passed with a soy dipping sauce … everyone raved. Of course, I went to Chinatown immediately following the first party I worked to purchase one of these three-tiered bamboo steamers. I must admit, I have hardly used it since, but it is a great gadget to have on hand even so. It steamed my edamame tonight in under five minutes. If you have one, place it right into a wok filled with just enough water to reach below the first tier. Bring the water to a boil and then place edamame pods into one of the tiers. Cover and steam until done. Sprinkle with a nice sea salt according to taste.

edamame

steaming edamame

edamame with nice salt

What to drink. What to drink. My day started with soju and has ended with soju. Soju’s “neutral flavor,” according to Gourmet, makes it a great mixer and “a favored alcoholic beverage in Korea.” I can’t really tell you how it tastes, only that it tasted damn good in the bloody Mary I had this morning at The Ramos House Cafe and damn good in the beverage I am drinking now — a grapefruit soju cocktail. If you can’t find soju, any vodka will make a fine substitute. 

grapefruit soju cocktail

To Make This Feast:

Step One: Pepare Cocktails

Grapefruit Soju Cocktails
Adapted from Gourmet
Makes 10 drinks (according to Gourmet), 5 drinks (according to Ali)

1 tablespoon superfine sugar
1 quart (4 cups) fresh-squeezed (or not) grapefruit juice
1 cup soju (sometimes called sochu), sake or vodka, chilled
Club soda or seltzer water chilled

1. Stir the sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt into the juice and stir to dissolve. Stir in soju and add sugar to taste.

2. Pour into ice-filled glasses and top with a splash of club soda.

Gourmet’s note: Grapefruit mixture without soju can be made four hours ahead and chilled. Add soju to mixture just before serving.

Step Two: Prepare Tofu

Warm Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce
Adapted from Gourmet
Serves 8 (as part of a Korean Meal according to Gourmet), 2 (as a main dish according to Ali — This recipe yields enough sauce for two, but I would double the amount of tofu if serving this as a main dish for 2.)

1 (14- to 18-oz) package firm tofu Note: The original recipe calls for soft (not silken) tofu. I have now made this recipe with both soft and firm tofu, and I prefer the firm tofu — the soft was very hard to eat with chopsticks.
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
¼ cup chopped scallion
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted and crushed with side of a heavy knife (I minced the seeds with some garlic and scallions, which helped keep the seeds from flying off the cutting board.)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon coarse Korean hot red-pepper flakes (crushed red pepper flakes)
1/2 teaspoon sugar

1. Rinse tofu, then cover with cold water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then keep warm, covered, over very low heat.

2. Meanwhile, mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt. Stir together with remaining ingredients.

3. Just before serving, carefully lift tofu from saucepan with a large spatula and drain on paper towels. Gently pat dry, then transfer to a small plate. Spoon some sauce over tofu and serve warm. Serve remaining sauce on the side.

Notes: Sauce can be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature before using. Tofu can be kept warm up to 4 hours.

Last Step: Steam Edamame

Edamame in pods
Nice sea salt

1. Steam pods until done, about five minutes. Sprinkle with nice salt. Serve. Yum.

Zuni Cafe’s Fried Eggs In Bread Crumbs

Zuni Cafe's Eggs in Bread Crumbs

eggs in bread crumbs

I wish I were a hen;
I wouldn’t have much to do.
I’d lay an egg most every day,
And Sundays sometimes two.

— German nursery rhyme

Just a little jingle I thought you all might like. I found it in the book I’m reading: My Fine Feathered Friend by William Grimes.

Anyway, I’ve found my latest favorite way to eat eggs: fried in bread crumbs. This recipe comes from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, which devotes a whole chapter (a very small chapter) to egg recipes. At Zuni, these eggs appear on the Sunday lunch menu accompanied by house-made sausage or bacon (sounds amazing), but Zuni’s chef-owner Judy Rodgers likes these crunchy eggs for dinner with a salad of  bitter greens. I couldn’t agree more: A simple salad of arugula, oranges, Parmigiano Reggiano, maybe an avocado and a couple pieces of toast couldn’t make a better dinner. 

These eggs are so yummy. Just after the eggs finish cooking, they get sprinkled with a little vinegar — don’t omit this step — which adds the perfect amount of bite. Even I refrain from dousing these eggs with Tabasco. It would ruin them.

I’ve made these eggs two nights in a row now and very likely will bring the streak to three tomorrow. When you plan on making them, be sure to read the whole recipe through — there’s nothing tricky about it, but it’s not your standard-issue recipe either.

Just some last thoughts, too: If you can find some farmers’ market greens and eggs, this meal will be all the more delicious. I feel like a brat saying this given that I live in sunny southern California, but if you do a little research, regardless of where you are, you’d be surprised what you might find. I remember buying delicious greens, even in the colder months, from various sources at the Fair Food Farmstand in Philadelphia.

For you locals, pictured below are Don’s eggs, Blue Heron Farm’s arugula, and Eli’s Ranch oranges, all of which can be found at the Sunday San Clemente farmers’ market.

egg on toast with arugula and oranges

The pan. The Zuni cookbook recommends using a 6- to 8- inch French steel omelet pan. I’ve used my 9.5-inch carbon steel crepe pan that I bought at Fante’s in Philadelphia. A nonstick pan will work just as well.

French steel omelet pan

Fresh, soft bread crumbs:

freshbreadcrumbs

Bread crumbs “oversaturated” with olive oil, as instructed by The Zuni Cafe Cookbook:

crumbs saturated with olive oil

To clean your skillet, dump some kosher salt into it and place it over medium heat. Let the salt heat up and begin to change color. Turn off the heat.

salt
Next, take a paper towel and rub in a circular motion, scraping off all the bits of food from the bottom of the pan. Wipe out all of the contents and discard. Drizzle pan with a tiny bit of olive oil and rub the surface to coat.

pan with salt

Fried Eggs in Bread Crumbs
From The Zuni Café Cookbook
Serves 1

Notes from the cookbook: This recipe has been written for one because these eggs are easy to make and fun to eat when you are alone. If you are making them for more than one person, use a larger pan and cook the eggs in batches of four to six. Also, see the note at the bottom of the recipe regarding toasting the bread crumbs in an oven.

1 loaf of white, bakery-style bread such as a peasant loaf or ciabatta or a boule
(This is to make the fresh, soft bread crumbs. You only need 3 tablespoons of crumbs, so you’ll likely need just a portion of this loaf.)
kosher salt
about 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
a few fresh thyme or marjoram leaves (optional)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon red wine, white balsamic, balsamic or sherry vinegar

1. To make the bread crumbs: Carve the crusts off a loaf of white bakery-style bread such as a peasant loaf or ciabatta or boule. (Discard the crusts or add to your compost pile.) Break the tender insides of the loaf into large chunks, then grind in the food processor. Don’t grind too finely or evenly.

2. Sprinkle the crumbs with a pinch of salt, then drizzle with enough of the oil to oversaturate them.

3. Place the crumbs in a 6- to 8-inch French steel omelet pan or nonstick skillet and set over medium heat. (If you like your fried eggs over easy, reserve some of the oiled raw crumbs to spinkle on top of the eggs just before you flip them.) Let the crumbs warm through, then swirl the pan as they begin drying out — which will make a quiet staticky sound. Stir once or twice.

4. The moment you see the crumbs begin to color, quickly add the remaining oil (or a dab of butter) and the herbs if using, then crack the eggs directly onto the crumbs. Cook the eggs as you like. (So far, I’ve made them two ways: without flipping them, but by finishing them in a heated oven so the tops cooked through a tiny bit; and flipping them, but cooking the eggs only briefly on the second side — the yolks were still runny.)

5. Slide eggs onto a warm plate ( … right), then add the vinegar to the hot pan. Swirl the pan once, then pour the drops of sizzling vinegar over the eggs.

Note: If you are preparing the eggs for more than a few people, it is a little easier to toast the seasoned bread crumbs in advance in a 425ºF oven instead of in the skillet. In that case, toast them to the color of weak tea. Then scatter them in the skillet, add the remaining olive oil and proceed as described above.

Serve these eggs with a simple salad tossed in a citrus vinaigrette (recipe below):

How to make a simple vinaigrette

I learned to make salad dressing from Chez Panisse Vegetables. This simple recipe calls for macerating shallots in lemon juice and vinegar for about 20 minutes. Once you master this simple recipe, you can alter it as you wish — use orange juice, lime juice, or any number of vinegars in place of the lemon juice and champagne vinegar. I often add sugar to taste as well.

Champagne-Shallot Vinaigrette
Source: Chez Panisse Vegetables

2 small shallots, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar or white balsamic vinegar*
2 tablespoons lemon juice*
¼ teaspoon sugar (optional — this is not in the original recipe, but I always like a pinch of sugar)
½ teapoon kosher salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper

*As I noted above, you can substitute what you wish for the vinegar or citrus. You also could use only vinegar or only citrus juice. Use whatever you have on hand or whatever you like best.

To make the dressing, place the shallots in a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and salt. Stir and let the mixture sit for 20 to 30 minutes. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly to make an emulsified dressing. Set aside.

Here are some other dressings you might like:

Tarragon-Shallot Vinaigrette
Orange & White Balsamic Vinaigrette
Orange Dressing, Especially nice with Roasted Beets
Sally Schneider’s Blue Cheese Dressing
Tartine’s Caesar Dressing

Orecchiette with Hot Italian Sausage & Wilted Greens

cheese, garlic & redpepper flakes

pasta1a

Yipee! I’m back. It has been way too long. I believe the slowness issues on my blog have been resolved. Thank you to all who let me know my blogspot blog was painfully slow to load, and thank you to all who offered thoughtful advice about how I should be saving/resizing photos. So far, the new site seems to be running smoothly. All of the posts have been imported from Blogger and all of the recipes can now be printed (in their own window without images and without all of the sidebar distractions.) Many of the links in various posts still link back to Blogger, but in time, I hope, those will be updated.

Anyway, I am excited to share with you this recipe for orecchiette with sausage and greens. The inspiration for this dish came from this Nigella Lawson recipe, which I spotted in an email blast from The Cookstr 10 regarding vegetarian dishes for everyone. I had a little trouble with the recipe the first time around — the one cup of wine and one cup of water turned my greens to mush — so I’ve altered the recipe a tad.

Now, as many of you know, when I make pasta, I usually begin with a pound of Delaney’s Culinary Fresh delectable homemade linguini. A trip last weekend to visit my adorable nephew, however, kept me from my Sunday farmers’ market, forcing me to improvise. Here, I’ve used orecchiette, which I adore, but I think elbow macaroni (or any pasta really) would make a nice substitute. I’m liking the little shapes these days for whatever reason.

Again, too, because I couldn’t stock up on chard last weekend, I found a one pound bag of “Southern” cooking greens, a mixture of turnip, collard, spinach and mustard, at Trader Joe’s. Sausage is not a must here, truly, but if you’re craving a little meat, the addition of hot Italian sausage adds a nice flavor. For those of you who live in the area, Tina and Vince’s homemade sausages are the best. The whole combination of pasta with greens and sausage and grated Parmigiano is so classic and so wonderful. Nothing original here, just a nice, simple, tasty dish. Yum.

pasta2

sausage

cheese, garlic & redpepper flakes

pastaandgreens

greenscollander

bittergreens

Orecchiette with Sausage and Greens
Serves 4

olive oil
1 lb. fresh, hot Italian sausage
1 lb. greens such as a mix of turnip, mustard, spinach, chard and collard (Trader Joe’s sells a 1 lb. bag of Southern cooking greens)
3 cloves garlic minced
kosher salt
crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb. orecchiette pasta
1 T. unsalted butter, room temperature is ideal
1/2 cup. grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus more to pass
fresh cracked pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, squeeze sausage from its casing. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat and cook the sausage until browned and cooked through. Transfer cooked sausage to a large bowl.

3. In the same pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil and turn heat to high. Once the oil is hot, add half of the greens. Let the greens sit for a minute undisturbed. Season with a pinch of kosher salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste. Add half of the garlic. Begin to toss the greens around until they start wilting. Once wilted, transfer to the large bowl with the sausage. Repeat with the remaining greens. Transfer greens to large bowl. Don’t wash the pan yet.

4. Add a pinch of salt to the pasta water. Boil the pasta for about 9 minutes. (The box says 11, but check it at 9.) Reserve a cup of the cooking liquid. Drain the pasta.

5. In the same sauté pan that you cooked the sausage and greens, add about half of the reserved cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. Add the tablespoon of butter and stir, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Let simmer until reduced slightly, about a minute. Place the pasta in the large bowl with the sausage and greens. Pour this cooking liquid-butter mixture over top. Add the cheese and stir with a large spoon. Taste. Add more of the reserved cooking liquid if necessary. Place pasta in a big serving bowl.

6. Dish out the pasta, cracking black pepper over each serving and passing more Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.